The 13th Amendment and the National Debt

The 13th Amendment was ratified and written into the Constitution in 1865. If you are unfamiliar with the 13th Amendment, one of the most straightforward laws in America, here it is:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

While many Constitutional amendments that followed our Bill of Rights are questionable (namely the 16th, the 17th, the repealed 18th, and the 26th), the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery is one we can collectively appreciate and respect. One would be hard-pressed to find an advocate for humans owning humans in this day and age in America.

I worry, however, that the federal overreach which has occurred over the course of the past two presidencies is not only in violation of the authorized powers and intended responsibilities of the Commander-in-chief in general, but is also a methodical violation of our Constitutional Right to be free from slavery.

At the moment, our national debt is over $19 trillion. Our gross domestic product is just over $17 trillion. In other words, if the net worth of every product and service our country created over the course of an entire year were allocated solely to paying off the debt, we would come up $2 trillion short. And if you think we’re doing anything of the sort, you need to subscribe to Forbes or The Wall Street Journal immediately.

When adjusted for inflation, our government had managed to maintain a steady and reasonable amount of debt between 1943 and 1980. But since then, it has shot up every fiscal year to nearly 2000% its 1980 size.

You may have recently heard that President Barack Obama has actually lowered our national deficit over the course of his presidency. Great news, right? Well, here are a few bullet points you should become acquainted with before patting the POTUS on the back:

  • The budget deficit and the national debt are not the same thing: the deficit is the difference between annual government expenditure and revenue (if the feds bring in $10 in taxes and spend $13 in a year, the deficit is $3 [plus interest]) while the national debt is the accumulation of deficits over time (if the deficit is $3 each year for three years, the debt increases by $9 [plus interest] after the third year)
  • President Obama has presided over the four highest annual deficits in our nation’s history (including his first year which was shared by Bush), and has the highest average annual deficit of any president in recorded history even after adjusting for inflation
  • The national debt continues to creep towards infinity despite the deficit reduction

And about that $19 trillion debt I mentioned earlier…well… that’s not a particularly honest statistic. When our current debt is combined with unfunded entitlements for veterans, Social Security, Medicare, and other unaccounted for governmental commitments, some say the true national debt is $65 trillion. There are even theories suggesting we actually owe $210 trillion. That number looks like this: $210,000,000,000,000.

Having said all of that, I am not a financial or economics expert by any stretch of the imagination. Much of what I am reporting here is only partially understood at best. However, I do not see this is a financial or economics issue. What we are dealing with is not about money, but about morality and the law.

The result of an inconceivably high public debt is future generations being born with financial obligations imposed upon them against their will. At the moment every child is born in America today, a ladder of dollar bills vast enough to make two round trips to the Moon, another one way trip, and a third of the way back to Earth looms over his or her head. And it will be the responsibility of those babies to pay off this monolith or risk losing the faith of foreign investors, depleting the value of the dollar to dirt.

How is this not slavery? To be born indebted is involuntary servitude despite a lack of misconduct. The 13th Amendment prohibits this explicitly! Our government exists almost exclusively to guarantee the freedom of all American citizens. When monetary Original Sin is the state of affairs, our government is operating lawlessly by violating our inalienable Rights.

An understandable consequence of having a government is that deficits and debts may occur, and any reasonable person can consent to a government spending a bit outside of its means. In times of justifiable war, we can all agree that money must be spent to preserve the safety and Liberty of the nation’s inhabitants even if it’s unaccounted for. Life, Liberty, and the persistence of the nation are certainly worth the investment.

But when our minds are not advanced enough to even comprehend the expanse of the money we owe and no wars are declared, things have gotten way out of hand.

I wish I had a solution to propose. Allegedly fiscally Conservative elected officials are happy to throw money at our already invincible military, and Liberal legislators are chomping at the bit to expand the welfare state with no ends in sight. Libertarians set out to cut spending in both of these areas, but they just don’t seem to have the formula for appealing to a large enough base to be nominated for public office in any kind of numbers. A Constitutional amendment limiting the debt ceiling or deficit spending would be an easy fix, but the Constitution hasn’t really been amended in nearly half a century. With a polarized populace and Congress at near Civil War levels, it’s hard to imagine an amendment being ratified anytime soon.

I hate to end on a sore and cynical note, but maybe our best bet is to pray that the rest of the world is gullible enough to keep lending us money whenever we ask for it. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and confidence in the dollar is what we need.

While there is little we can do politically as individuals in an increasingly-centralized Democracy of 350 million people, I guess working our tails off to produce high-quality products the world is dying to buy may allow us to live on this way indefinitely without severe repercussions.

But that sounds a bit too much like the rationale of a slave to me.

The 13th Amendment and the National Debt

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